Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: 2014 Fantasy Baseball Player Rankings - Round 1

Time to start building a super team. (thesimpsons.com)
Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

When I started writing about fantasy sports a couple odd years ago, I knew it was mostly for my own purposes. My own outlet. With the Internet the way it is, there's no telling if this would get 1 pair of eyeballs or 100,000. Getting 100,000 on a daily bases would be grand, but if only I was able to read this, then I'd be fine with that as well. As we enter into Year 2 of my fantasy baseball rankings, I am reminded of this as I scroll through past Fantasy Funkhouser articles. A lot of the stuff I've said or written about is pretty interesting to re-read. And aside from this article from two years ago brazenly stating that David Robertson is the new Yankees closer, most of the stuff has at least a morsel of worthwhile information stuffed in there. In particular I was proud of my Man Crush picks for last year (which will be back again in 2014), and my Leap Game article on Jose Fernandez. For the record Fernandez did get shelled that night in Cincy, but I think it's safe to say he pulled through. 

Reviewing what I wrote and the amount I wrote for my rankings struck me as daunting. Writing a narrative around an assortment of 12 players in a given week was a challenge, but also not quite worth it. There are much more capable minds to breakdown the nuances of drafting or strategy, and more people will tune into those advisers for that kind of player or draft analysis. I'd like to take more time focusing on the players not trying to build a catch-all article around them. I've competed my Top 250, so over the course of the next month, I'll be able to more quickly and efficiently make them available along with some of my thoughts. On the Big Board, I've added position rank as a reference as well, and while this will be a continually evolving list, I'll try to keep things as fresh as possible along with some analysis as to why a player might have moved up or down the list. 

In summation, if you're new to reading this or think you want to check in periodically, yes, there is some good stuff on here. 

With that all out of the way, time to look at the First Round of the 2014 Fantasy Funkhouser Rankings.

The first pick in the draft is truly a coin flip.  I had Mike Trout as my clear #1 overall selection a couple of months ago, and he could still very well be an excellent #1. However, as I looked into things a bit further I started reviewing certain things. Like who finished higher in Yahoo's final standings (Cabrera #1, Trout #4) or who was on top of ESPN's player rater in 2013 (Cabrera), and who earned more auction dollars (Cabrera $47, Trout $43)? In all of the fantasy rankings Cabrera was still the man to beat. When you look at that and also note that Cabrera has 3B and will soon have 1B eligibility, that is a big plus. Also, Cabrera battled a groin injury over the past month of the season and through the playoffs - so he was capable of an even greater year than he had! And for all you Triple Crown truthers out there, Cabrera had better numbers across the board last year than his Triple Crown winning season in 2012. I guess that's the benefit of not having Chris Davis going off. It's a statistical anomaly, people. Not that it's not amazing, just not as big a deal as some would like you to believe.

Cabrera is still easily in his prime years, and let me just leave the Cabrera side of the argument with this:

.292 AVG/ 26 HR/ 105 RBI / 85 R/ 130 OPS+

That is a line made up of Cabrera's WORST seasons since he was a full-time player in 2004. Yes, that's the bottom of the barrel for Miggy. At this rate, he is legitimately one of the greatest players of all time. The back to back AL MVP along with his unmatched consistency and elite production for your fantasy game make him my top overall choice. He's good at baseball.




As for Trout, he's just the best consolation prize in fantasy history. The 22-year-old is all about breaking records and inspiring awe from those who watch him. Yes, those 2 MVPs with Miguel Cabrera engraved in them could and possibility should read Mike Trout, but this is fantasy people. We truly only care about offense. Trout batted away any body's regression voodoo and actually had a better baseball season in 2013. His LD% increased, his GB% dipped (which isn't too big a deal when you have Trout's speed), and he nearly doubled his walk total while striking out three less times despite playing in 18 more games. Trout is only getting better and although his baseball card stats didn't show it. 

The good news for Trout is that he's not going to be overly aggressive or make mistakes. He's going to be patient. If the pitcher wants to walk him, go ahead. If the pitcher makes a mistake, he'll crank out a double and steal 3rd because he feels like it. For Trout to surpass Cabrera the formula is pretty clear. He has to at the very least maintain his current hitting numbers: high 20's for homers and pushing 90+ RBI with at least a .310+ AVG. The push is going to come from runs scored and steals. When Trout led all of fantasy in 2012 he had 129 R and 49 SB. Those number dropped to 109 R and 33 SB last year, ironically enough due to  $363 MM worth of ball players in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. The severe lack in production from either of these overpriced superstars had a negative effect on Trout's ability to produce comparable runs scored numbers and while there isn't a direct correlation to the dip in steals, Trout has already indicated this Spring that he wants to steal more bases. There is no right or wrong answer for the #1 pick. If I'm fortunate enough to have the opportunity I want to own both Cabrera and Trout spread across my fantasy teams because they're just too fun to have.

For any questions regarding my Ryan Braun at #5 ranking, I refer you to this

I mentioned before that with the many question marks lining the offensive player pool this year, I would imagine pitchers like Clayton Kershaw or Yu Darvish or Craig Kimbrel going much earlier than in years past. This is clearly indicated with Kershaw going #7 overall on my board. You always want to try to lock up offense when you can because you can fill out your staff a bit later through free agency. There aren't many 30/20 guys relaxing on your watch list, but then again there aren't pitchers like Clayton Kershaw either. He has put together enough consistency and dominance to warrant this spot. Trusting Ramirez, Ellsbury, or even Encarnacion to be productive and healthy is a risky one. Chris Davis is worthy of a shot at #7, but there is some hesitancy for how much his production will regress. Plus he's more of a .260-.270 hitter and expecting 50+HR in this day and age just isn't the practice of a sane individual.

I am big on Encarnacion this year. His injury bug seems to be past him, and with him too adding 3B eligibility makes him a very tempting target. Imagine pulling him and Cabrera in a draft? Oh, boy. 

Finally, for Robinson Cano, his #12 overall rank is nothing more than where he normally should be ranked. Moving from the Yankees to the Mariners is overblown in the ballpark change sense. Who knows if Cano's relaxed attitude will become a hindrance in the more laid back city of Seattle as opposed to the cauldron that is New York City? There's really no one in Seattle that will or can keep Cano's attitude in check, so while there might be some mud slinging going on regarding his effort, I'm confident that the pressure of $240 MM will motivate him just fine. Cano has always been steady and honestly, been drafted much higher than his value dictates. I expect nothing more or less than what Cano has produced in previous seasons. 


RANK PLAYER NAME POS POS RANK TEAM CHANGE
1 Miguel Cabrera 3B 1 DET
2 Mike Trout OF 1 LAA
3 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 1 ARZ
4 Andrew McCutchen OF 2 PIT
5 Ryan Braun OF 3 MIL
6 Carlos Gonzalez OF 4 COL
7 Clayton Kershaw SP 1 LAD
8 Hanley Ramirez SS 1 LAD
9 Chris Davis 1B 2 BAL
10 Edwin Encarnacion 3B 2 NYY
11 Jacoby Ellsbury OF 5 TOR
12 Robinson Cano 2B 1 SEA
On Deck: Adrian Beltre, Joey Votto, Bryce Harper

NOTE: IN REGARDS TO MULTI-POSITION ELIGIBLE PLAYERS, FOR RANKINGS SAKE, I'M LISTING THEM WHERE THEY EITHER CURRENTLY HAVE ELIGIBILITY OR WILL BE PRIMARILY USED IN FANTASY.

I.E. CABRERA WILL HAVE 1B ELIGIBILITY AS SOON AS YOUR LEAGUE ALLOWS IT, BUT I'LL LIST HIM AS 3B. OR JOE MAUER IS ONLY PLAYING 1B THIS YEAR, BUT IF YOU USE HIM AS ANYTHING BUT YOUR CATCHER YOU'RE SILLY.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: Solving the 5th Pick in a 2014 Snake Draft Problem

Hear me out, people! (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

As I finalize my preparations for my 2014 rankings there appears to be one over arching question for people early in their draft. Specifically, there is one position above all others people do not want to be drafting from in 2014. That is the 5th spot in a snake draft. The reason is that after the, essentially, inarguable top 4 of Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, and Andrew McCutchen there is a large grouping of people with high ceilings but also low floors.

Players like Carlos Gonzalez who is guaranteed to miss at least 20 games that usually occur at the end of the season, which for contending teams is the least opportune time. Or Chris Davis who blew up the baseball world with an epic 2013 season that many seem skeptical he can repeat. Robinson Cano has moved to a less hitter friendly park at Safeco, Jacoby Ellsbury has some injury flags on him, and Bryce Harper could be the MVP or he could have another year of slow progression towards superstar status.

Based on current ADP info, it appears many owners are skirting by these players that have more question marks than the Riddler in favor of safety and security in the form of Clayton Kershaw. Certainly this isn't a bad choice. Kershaw earned $57 last year, based on The Fantasy Baseball Guide. He was third on ESPN's player rater, and Yahoo ranked him second overall when the final pitch was tossed in 2013. This is exactly what a Top 10 pick looks like. Dominant, safe, secure, and the caveat of Kershaw is that drafting such an elite pitcher so early allows you to basically forgo taking another starter for 8-10 rounds in most standard leagues. Even in the 2014 LABR mixed league draft, head honcho Steve Gardner saw no issues taking Kershaw at the dreaded #5. Ray Guilfoyle at Fake Teams agrees with Gardner's pick. He writes:
Loved the Kershaw pick by Steve Gardner at #5. He represents little risk and is the most dominant starter in the game. With few 40 home run hitters left in the game, starting pitchers will offer more production going forward.
Yes, yes, and yes, Ray. Most logical people are on board. The general strategy is to turn your nose up at pitching for the first several rounds and get elite hitters, but when all of those hitters could sink your title dreams the pitcher that might be the best of a generation seems like a nice safety blanket. Sure there's a greater risk of injury for a pitcher than a hitter in general, but in this specific instance there are a litany of different reasons to not take the next 5-6 ranked offensive players.

With all this uncertainty it seems easy to fall comfortably into taking Kershaw. To going in early for that pitcher just because he is so good. But if we can all agree with hitters being more valuable and in a perfect world we'd take one in the first round, then why shouldn't we consider Ryan Braun?

Oh, PEDs you say, well yes he does have that hanging over his head, but is that something really worth punishing fantasy wise? He's served his suspension, he's back with something to prove, and while convicted cheaters like Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera have regressed quite a bit once their "gummy" supply was stunted, but Rodriguez was already breaking down and Cabrera somehow willed his PED use into a great season, which clearly he is not capable of on his own. Braun though has been elite, well, forever. Look at his career stats and tell me when he started taking PEDs. If we go on what we know and what has been reported it's likely that he started somewhere at the end of 2010 and into 2011. There was a spike in his numbers, but those were also over his prime age years.

Let's strike those two from the record because I'm feeling generous. Prior to that he was still a wrecking machine. In 2009 and 2010 he earned $40 and $34 respectively by smacking 30 homers with 100+ runs and 100+ RBI with double digit steals. His wOBA and ISO during his entire career has stayed largely in line with what he's always done.

Last year he obviously struggled with the on-going media speculation of his PED use. The failed drug test that was somehow overturned, and then the fall out that he was indeed using PEDs. Braun came off looking bad. He vehemently denied the claims initially, attacking and attempting to destroy the reputation of some people in the process. His standing in the court of public opinion is at an all-time low. Along with battling some injuries and running less there are legitimate concerns about Braun, but compared to what the other players are offering up, I think he's worth this pick.

Even if we say he won't be the player he was, a reasonable demotion in his overall performance still lands him safely in the .290 AVG, 25 HR, 90 R, 90 RBI, and 15 steal range. Those are comparable to CarGo or even a guy like Adam Jones, but unlike those two, I think this is a pretty safe floor for the now clean Braun.

Stats and projections don't take into account the emotional state of the player or off the field struggles, but I'm not too concerned about it. Sure road games will be tough, but a guy like Braun, who is the +Milwaukee Brewers' best player is used to getting heckled anyway. On top of it, I have a personal feeling that people like Braun are slightly detached from the reality of a situation. For most normal people, this would be a heavy burden to carry. There would be a fear or apprehension going anywhere, showing your face, and especially trying to hit a moving round ball being thrown at you with a round piece of lumber, but super athletes have to be detached in this weird way. Baseball is almost more of a sanctuary or release for players like Braun, not an impossible mountain to climb.

This, however, is fantasy baseball. If you say I don't want this guy on my team because I just don't like him, then that's all well and good. I'm 100% fine with that. Take Kershaw or CarGo and be on your merry way, but if you're looking to take who might be the best player at #5 then that could very well be Braun.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Looking for a Fight @ UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Mousasi

Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza enters the Octagon to impress on Saturday Night. (yahoo.com)

Just because the fight card for Saturday night's UFC event in Brazil says Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza and Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida aren't fighting each other doesn't mean they aren't facing off. Yes, UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Mousasi might as well read as UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Jacare. The two Brazilians are the co-main and main event of the evening and while winning their fight is top priority, the biggest prize is the win their fight spectacularly on Saturday to get a shot at the middleweight title.

Both Machida and Souza are more than capable of the spectacular in the Octagon. Souza has finished his last five opponents with four of them coming in the 1st Round. Machida is no stranger to finishing fights, and his debut at 185 ended abruptly with a shin to Mark Munoz's head. As the lead in to this event, UFC President Dana White has said that Machida is the one who stands to get the next title shot after Vitor Belfort should Machida defeat Gegard Mousasi, however, as we all know White likes to see finishes.

It's the reason the UFC implemented the new bonus structure effective immediately changing the KO of the Night and Sub of the Night to two separate Fighter Performance of the Night bonuses. The company slant on this is that sometimes there isn't a KO or a sub so this bonus money goes wasted. Now, since it's more open to interpretation this $50K bonus can go to whomever the UFC wants to give it to. Yeah, right.

The UFC does whatever it wants within the confines of their company. If there isn't a KO or a sub, then I can guarantee they're giving out that money on top of the already infamous backdoor paychecks the UFC cuts for fighters who go above and beyond in the Octagon.

This move directly correlates to UFC 169, which set a record for fights going to the scorecard. White was not happy, so things needed to change. Overall, this isn't going to greatly impact the fights, but the message is clear: just because you happen to triangle choke some guy in a boring fight, you're not walking off with $50K. You have to put on an entertaining fight and you have to go for not just finishes but for 3 or 5 rounds of continual action.

So Machida can't just dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge his way to a decision. Nor can Jacare play it carefully (not that he usually does). This is a fight where not only are the bonuses up for grabs but the caliber in which each fighter is able to finish the fight will directly affect his ability to get a title shot. This is something that both fighters, fighting in front of their Brazilian brethren must be thinking about.

Both fighters are the favorites in their respective bouts, but while Jacare has the higher UFC rank at #3, the newly minted middleweight Machida is right behind him and #4 and taking on the arguable better opponent in Mousasi. While Mousasi hasn't been able to get his momentum going in the UFC, fighting only once in April against unfortunate last second replacement Ilir Latifi, he can't be overlooked as the Iranian has held belts at both DREAM and Strikeforce.

It remains unclear if Jacare and Machida would fight each other for a #1 contender spot, but at this moment that appears to be unnecessary. With Anderson Silva out of the picture for most of 2014 and either current champion Chris Weidman or Vitor Belfort holding the strap come May it'll be the fighter that puts on the best performance on Saturday night who will fight for the title before 2014 is over.

This new bonus structure might not move mountains, but the UFC certainly added an extra element to Saturday's card in Brazil.

BREAKDOWN

If the name of the game is finishing fights, then it's hard for me to think Jacare won't be fighting Weidman in the Fall. Jacare is a scary dude who can now impose his fists on top of his elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When we look at Machida though, what can we expect in his second bout at 185? His first ended so emphatically that if he can do something like that again then the title shot is all his.

The shame about Machida is that many probably don't appreciate how good he really is. The guy was almost untouchable at 205 until he ran into Shogun Rua, and then a Jon Jones choke later it was clear he was out of his element. A naturally slender person, Machida probably should have been at 185 all along, but his unwillingness to fight Anderson Silva and probably a heavy reliance on his karate to avoid the damage light heavyweights can inflict kept him up there too long. If 185 Machida is explosive and is more willing to let his fists fly, then we could be talking about a completely different fighter.

In order to make a prediction, I'm going to have to go with what I know. Although I think the upset is a bit more likely with Jacare than with Machida, I think Jacare will be able to finish Francis Carmont via submission and get the title shot.